Quick! What are your top three ideas for making a good Transformers movie?
#1: Get Michael Bay away from it.
#2: Find a director that grew up loving the Gen 1 cartoon and understands the fanbase.
#3: Ditch the committee written scripts. Find a single writer with a unique perspective, perhaps a woman?
After the financial disappointment of “Transformers: The Last Knight” someone finally listened! “Bumblebee” is without a doubt, the best Transformer movie since the 1984 animated feature.
The year is 1987 and the war on the alien planet of Cybertron is coming to an end. In a last-ditch effort to find a place of refuge, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) sends the young, plucky scout B127 to the distant planet known as “Earth” Upon arrival B127 is almost immediately attacked by both Earth’s military forces and Decepticons who have followed in pursuit. Badly damaged, and without a memory of who he is or where he came from, this lone Autobot hybernates until a young woman discovers him in VW Beetle form, and takes him home. The young woman, Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld), has just turned 18 and like B127, whom she will soon bestow with the iconic insect name, doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. Her family is a loving one, but they don’t understand her, and she hasn’t been able to overcome the loss of her father as easily as her mother has. Bumblebee enters her life at a crucial moment and it’s refreshing to see how they help each other grow and become more confident versions of themselves.
The script was penned by Christina Hodson, and based on what she’s done here, it’ll be fun to see how her next two projects turn out. Those being the Birds of Prey/Harley Quinn movie, and the recently announced Batgirl feature. Her characters all speak and behave in believable ways if they were in such an extraordinary situation. Amongst the humans, there aren’t really any villains, just good people making occasional bad choices. Her parents played wonderfully by Pamela Adlon and Stephen Schneider might be a little out of touch, but they aren’t cartoonish characters. There’s an unexpected level of realism here that helps ground such a fantastic story. Being set in the ’80s certainly helps as well. An amazing Soundtrack and a healthy amount of iconic nostalgia adds to the fun, but it also harkens back to similar young adult epics of the time. “Flight of the Navigator” and “E.T”. immediately come to mind. Elements of the script also borrow heavily from “The Iron Giant”, almost to a fault, but it’s a minor complaint given the overall quality of both.
Even the best script would be worthless in the hands of an incapable or out-of-touch director. Amazingly, this first spin-off Transformer film tapped Laika alumni Travis Knight who worked as a lead animator on “Coraline”, “ParaNorman”, and “The Boxtrolls” before directing the wonderful “Kubo and the Two Strings” Any concerns about jumping from animation to directing a live-action feature are immediately dispelled. Unlike the previous movies, the audience can actually tell what’s going on, even during robot-on-robot action! Knight has stated in a number of interviews that he’s been a Transformers fan since he was a child. His love of the source material and reverence for the iconic characters is immediately clear, especially during the opening battle on Cybertron.
While there are occasional stumbles peppering the film, like John Cena‘s enjoyable but uneven performance, the good far outweighs any negatives. “Bumblebee” is the movie fans have always wanted and should have been what the series started with. It will be interesting to see where it goes from here, as it’s considered a prequel more than a reboot but clearly retcons some major plot points of the previous films. Hopefully, audiences will reward this film for taking things in a new direction.